The Petrification of Pierre Jardin pt 2

Medusa with stumpsAfter my first day in The Garden of Cosmic Speculation, I met the spectacular site’s designer, Charles Jencks.  After exchanging pleasantries, he asked me, with a twinkle in his eye, “Did you meet my Medusa?  Did she turn you to stone?”  Seeing my confusion, he went on, “well, what were some of your favorite things in the garden?”

That question was also difficult to answer, but on reflection, I said that I had liked the tree root systems used as displays, and was especially impressed with a very large set of roots, in a field next to some stumps.  They resembled ones I’d seen in Chinese gardens in Suzhou, so we discussed Chinese stone appreciation for some time, after which he drew me a map so I could meet Medusa the next day, and told me that it was gift from Richard Rosenblum, a sculptor whose collection of Chinese stones and art has been shown in many museums.

Medusa clearestI had a good laugh at my own expense when I discovered that the tree roots I had liked and the Medusa were one and the same.  I stood marveling at the roots winding around the trunk and branches like snakes, at the stones caught in tangled branches, and the overall appearance of a striding figure.

I walked closer, took several close-ups of various parts of the piece towering 15 feet above me.  It was only when I touched it that I realized, with a shock and burst of laughter, that the Medusa was in fact a sculpture, a bronze cast Rosenblum had done.  Rosenblum’s own interest in Chinese scholars’ rocks was driven the “flip between nature and culture” they embody, the “profound surprise” provoked by seeing natural objects turn into cultural things and back again (Rosenblum, Art of the Natural World, 3).

In one stunned moment, I was turned to stone: Charles Jencks had realized that I mistook the roots for a natural object, asked me if I’d encountered the Medusa, and then sent me back to look at what I had not actually seen.


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The Petrification of Pierre Jardin

Pierre Jardin spends an inordinate amount of time with stones: collecting them, arranging them, photographing them, writing about them. If he had to choose one word to capture how he feels about stones, it would be absorbing.  Absorption encompasses both a material and aesthetic aspect: the taking in or soaking up of one energy or substance by another, usually gradually; and engrossing the attention.  

Pierre feels drawn by rocks; they exert a kind of pull, energetic presence, or gravitational attraction on his body and mind.  When collecting rocks, there is a moment of some initial notice, or catching of attention, by a single stone; as soon as that moment is sustained, it becomes a process of mutual absorption. The rock catches the eye and something about it absorbs us, and we absorb something of it—a material aspect, its form, or pattern of markings, texture.  This relation to stone embodies what Gaston Bachelard called the “material imagination,” which does not just look at matter but “thinks matter, dreams in it, lives in it, or, in other words, materializes the imaginary.” Bachelard stipulates that “a kind of dialectical animism” between matter and mind is required to set this imaginative work in motion.

Pierre Jardin not only animates stone in his active imaginative and physical engagement with rocks–he also is animated by stone.  He has begun to become rock-headed, stone-boned, a literal example that humans are “walking, talking minerals,” as Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky said. Ever since Pierre prioritized working in the Petriverse, he has become more peaceful, balanced, and down to earth.

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Blue Notes

dscf8126Pierre Jardin is often asked whether the blue markings are painted on the standing stones along the gravel path in the Petriverse. He associates these natural ‘blue notes’ on the rocks with the ocean waves where they have been tumbled round for millions of years. Looking at them, Pierre can hear the sound made by roughly-rolling-rocks moved up and down the swash zone by strong waves. Although tremendous mass and force are at work, the low, loud, rhythmic tones are deeply calming.

Jardin thinks of this sound as jazz made by the ocean, an improvisa-tional music in the key of sea. He calls the stones “blue note records” of this aeonic concert, bringing together in words two of his very favorite gifts in life: the propulsive grooves of Blue Note jazz records and the ebb and flow of rocks and water. The bass rumble of stones and intermittent splashes of sea evoke the drum rolls and cymbal crashes of Billy Higgins, an LA jazz treasure and Blue Note regular.

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Pierre Jardin is the proud uncle of Danesh “DJ” Walia, age 16.  We spent a day at the beach looking for egg-shaped stones at the beach, and placed seven eggs in a little display.  DJ then composed the stone-message (The Seven Eggs of/in Stone) and egg-shaped oval around the number 7 and wrote the following post.  It is like Pierre Jardin and Yoda converged in one writer!  Thank you DJ!

DSCF8067Eggs of stone inside nests found! Time of day,
matter not does it. Nests all around, time moves forward. Eggs are eggs, no one has control. Time passes by, things pass on. No one knows what is it. What
is inside?


DSCF8072Inside is what? It is what knows no one. On things pass, by passes time. Control has no one, eggs are eggs. Forward moves time, around all nests. It does not matter, day of time. Found nests inside stone of eggs!


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Petrified by Penone in Paris

June in Paris: a time to visit greening gardens filled with teeming trees and lush shrubs. Pierre Jardin is here, looking to learn from his French ancestors.  Walking in the Jardin des Tuileries one fine afternoon, Jardin wandered off into the side gardens known as le Grande Couvert, where works by contemporary artists (Roy Lichtenstein, Magdelena Abakanowicz, Daniel Deleuze) sprang into view, making dramatic entrances in the classically designed landscape.

But the most anomalous sight proved to be a large, uprooted tree trunk P1060271lying prone, suspended off the ground by short stubs of branches sticking out, that seemed somehow to have been ignored or overlooked by the ubiquitous gardeners. How could a 50-foot long rotting timber, a bleak blight of a sight, a dour note of doom, be permitted to persist in this verdant place?

Then, when he went to marvel at the tangle of roots left suspended perpendicular to the ground, Pierre Jardin received another shock: a sign marked it as another contemporary sculpture, “L’Arbre de Voyelles” by Giuseppe Penone (1999). But since it looked exactly like a fallen tree, and there was no support P1060268or stand on which the work was displayed, Jardin wondered whether he was looking at nature or art, a tree or a sculpture. Rereading the sign, he realized that Penone had cast the trunk in bronze.  The molded material arrested decay in a restful repose, preserving it a frozen pose. This wasn’t a decaying tree but an arboreal fossil, something simultaneously newly born and oddly archaic, a mass around which a strange sort of anomaly in spacetime coalesced.  Jardin found himself stupefied and petrified, his cerebral hemispheres regressing to the lithosphere,P1060270 mute thought mingling with brute material.

Pondering Penone’s enigmatic title set Pierre Jardin wondering about the tree all over again. The “vowels” referenced turned out to be five oak trees planted among the trunk’s broken branches, creating a seasonal swing and growth process in direct dialogue with the work’s insistent inertia. Penone collaborated with Tuileries landscape designed Pascal Cribier in situating the tree parallel to the Seine, opening a different dialogue of forking structures between branching tree and the river and its tributaries. The Seine in turn affects the perception of the sculpture, serving as a reminder that the work was created as a molten metallic flow molding itself to the receptive surfaces of the tree.

Taking a turn in the Tuileries, looking for more Art amid manicured Nature, Pierre Jardin had been barking up the wrP1020982ong tree. Penone’s rust-proof rustic sculpture, his bronze bucolic petrified poem, broke down distinctions and busted Pierre Jardin’s brain.  L’Arbre des Voyelles left him lingering, laughing loudly, and meekly weeping….  The feeling only deepened on revisiting the site in the dead of winter.

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Tipping the Scale: seeing the large in the small

Rocks and gardens serve as microcosms for larger natural forces and formations.  In classicP1040195al Chinese gardens, taihu rocks, individually situated or piled into rockeries, were designed to evoke mountains. An oft-quoted passage from 18th century writer Shen Fu states that “in piling up rocks into mountains…the aim is to see the small in the large, and the large in the small, to see the real in the illusory and to see the illusory in the real.”  The famous rockery at the Lion Forest Garden in Suzhou seen here features caves and tunnels under tall standing stones, simulating the vast caverns and striking peaks in renowned mountains like the Five Sacred Peaks.

Pierre Jardin adopts a similar approach in working with stones and other materials, but adapts them to fit the geographical and geological context of his garden, coastal Southern California.  DSCF7871Thus his latest installation uses porous shore stones to stage a tidal shelf dotted with beachcombed rocks, seaweed, and coral meant to resemble birds, eggs, and small treasures one might find in tidal pools.  In two texts, Pierre Jardin invites viewers to look closely at the display and let their imaginations speculate freely.  A poem on the shelf’s headstone casts the “Tidal Shelf” as a set of tales and histories: “Swash zone tomes of stone/ Porous petric palimpsest/Sedimental stories.”  The current Slow Times newsletter compares tidal shelves to wonder cabinets, and invites passersby to undertake a treasure hunt for specific objects in the display.  As a viewer narrow their focus, they make the world of the display become larger in scale.

Behind the Tidal Shelf installation, three large, upright-balanced rocks loom.  Pierre Jardin named them “The Holey Trinity” and imagines them as a set of tall coastal formations like one sees along beaches all  around the world, from the Twelve Apostles in Australia to the Stone Henge pillars of Montaña de Oro State Park near San Luis Obispo.





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A Philosopher’s Stone Monsters

Capture-stoneThe Peteriverse was recently graced with a weeklong visit by Pierre Cassou-Noguès, an internationally renowned philosopher and writer who teaches at the University of Paris VIII.  Pierre’s work, both accessible and mind-expanding, includes titles like The Melody of Tick-Tock and other reasons for wasting one’s time and Imagine the Earth without humans!  Interacting with Pierre Jardin, Philosopher Pierre conducted a series of investigations, explorations, and thought experiments about rocks and humans, and discovered Stone Monsters.  The result is a singularly thought-provoking, humorous, and moving short video called Stone Monsters in California.  Pierre Jardin immensely appreciates it; when he misses his friend, he watches it and smiles.

Pierre’s Stone Monsters work recalls in some ways a wise and whimsical short film called Das Rad Rocks (Academy Award nominee 2003), which also stimulates imaginative insights regarding the very different timescales of humans and stones.

You can view both these works in a mere 15 minutes, during which time you will have contemplated geological eons!  If time were money, you’d have made billions in a quarter-hour!

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